In the shadow of the tiger

Avatar BCR | January 20, 2008 1 View 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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In the shadow of the tiger
Vivek Deshpande
Posted online: Sunday, January 20, 2008
As the sun sets on Karwa, the lone bicycle rider on the road from Shivni, a marketplace 15 km away, pedals furiously. In Karwa, a village near Vidarbha’s Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, the fear of the beast is real?as real as the night that closes in stealthily.
“Tigers have been killing people in neighbouring villages. Fortunately, we have been spared so far. But if the tiger strikes, we will have to face it. What else can we do,” said Kashinath Mankar, a villager.
While Mankar was talking, a tiger was mauling 45-year old Kalidas Gulab Meshram, a leprosy patient at Baba Amte’s Somnath project, 15 km away. His body was recovered on Friday morning. Meshram, a shepherd, had returned to the forest to look for his missing goat when he became the 27th victim of a tiger attack since January 2006. Tigers have killed nine people in the forests near the reserve in the last three months.
Karwa has a typical problem. “We have no state transport bus to the market at Shivni, where we go to fetch our groceries. We have to travel on bicycles or on foot?that takes us anything between 90 minutes and 3 hours. All this while, we pray to god to get us back safely,” said sarpanch Bhaurao Wadhai.
Thick forests flank the road to Shivni, which is often closed during the rainy season. Karwa got its first state transport bus?to Chandrapur-only in December 2006. “But that doesn’t take us to Shivni. Chandrapur is 65 km away and we don’t need to go there often,” said Wadhai. Karwa has only a primary school and children who want to study beyond that will have to stay in ashram schools?the nearest is 13 km away. The primary health centre is at Wasera, 15 km away.
While policy makers in Delhi were framing rules for the Scheduled Castes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (recognition of forest rights) Act?also called Tribal Act that’s now ready to be implemented?and animal activists were lobbying for notification of tiger reserves, Karwa and other villagers understood little. What they understood was that tigers had to be protected; they are not yet asking if it has to be done at their cost. “We have encountered tigers several times. It has killed our cattle but hasn’t attacked us yet. We understand it has the right to be here and all of us have to live together. But what should we do if it starts attacking us,” asked Namdeo Ade, another villager.
The tiger population in this fledgling tiger reserve has grown substantially over the last 10 years. The reserve has 41 tigers and the 800-sq-km adjoining forest has at least 22. But that has also meant that the big cats are increasingly straying over to adjoining forests and villages. It is one of the scores of villages where the strict legal wildlife laws apply. “We have been facing several restrictions since the tiger reserve came up in 1995. People who come to our village have to cross the reserve and they have to do so between 7 and 11 in the morning or between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. We don’t get to host guests and relatives,” complained Sukru Masram, a youngster.
Much before experts coined terms like ‘human-tiger conflict’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’, these were a way of life for villagers in Karwa. “The tiger is safe here because of us. Else, poachers would have come and killed them long back,” said Ade.
The village has a functional forest protection committee. “We do plantations and such other activities. The Bombay Natural History Society had even held a film show that talked of how the wildlife should be protected,” said Masram.
“We understand all that but we have to go to the forest for things like firewood, timber, mahua flowers and tendu leaves. If a tiger attacks us, what should we do,” asked Ade. The Act doesn’t answer that.

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